“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
– Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
A giant of the 20th century has fallen. Fidel Castro is dead. Age, 90. Friends and followers, many millions. Enemies and victims, perhaps many more. Legacy, undeniable.
Former Cuban President Castro was a revolutionary fueled by philosophy – and an autocratic despot who would not tolerate the dissenting ideas of others. He liberated his homeland from the iron fist of dictator Fulgencio Batista nearly 58 years ago – then dominated the nation for five decades through steel and brute, physical violence. He rode into power flying the banner of nationalism and promising to lift the people from poverty – he died Friday, Nov. 25, as the world’s “last Communist” in an oppressive country where everyone is poor, except the party elite and a well-connected few.
To say that Mr. Castro was one of the most polarizing figures in recent history is an understatement. That he was one of the most loved – and hated – might be closer to the truth. Nothing is more accurately illustrative of the equal measures of loyalty and loathing that Mr. Castro inspired than the dichotomous scenes that ensued after the announcement of his death: In Havana, a respectful (and imposed) silence, introducing nine days of official mourning. In Miami’s Little Havana, honking horns, brilliant fireworks and raucous revelry among the regime’s exiles and their descendants.
Mr. Castro’s impact, of course, is most evident in Cuba, which he reshaped by force after his own image and which now stands, crumbling, as a fortress, as a monument and as a mausoleum to the ideals and realities of rule under Marxism-Leninism.
His reign also influenced the course of history in his arch-nemesis, the United States of America, politically – through the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald (an admirer and devotee of Mr. Castro); and demographically – through the mass emigration of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Cubans from Mr. Castro’s country to the U.S. (Here in the Cayman Islands, we continue to be a landing site for desperate migrants who have chosen to risk their lives on the merciless sea rather than at the hands of the ruthless Cuban government.)
Not only has the Cuban-American community never forgiven Mr. Castro for his government’s mass confiscation of private property, executions of tens of thousands of foes, and imprisonments of untold numbers of opponents, their hate of Mr. Castro – and vice versa – has only seemed to grow over the past 50-plus years.
(In the words of the Miami Herald’s editorial board, “The totalitarian dictator is dead. May his police state and inhumanity be buried along with him.”)
Locally, the Cayman Islands is intertwined with Cuba through bonds of history, economics and blood. Despite the familial intimacy between our islands’ populations, and the mandates of diplomatic delicacy, we must observe that statements issued by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush appear to be wholly imbalanced, reading like snippets of eulogies of a dear departed friend, and lacking acknowledgements that Mr. Castro was a dictatorial tyrant who presided over death, destruction and the extinguishment of free speech, personal liberty and economic progress.
Although the decade Mr. Castro’s brother Raul (age 85) has been in power has been marked by a thawing relationship with the U.S., a Cuban free market is still a myth. The potential for free elections is even more ethereal. As it has been since Mr. Castro rode a tank into Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, the future of Cuba remains a mystery and a question mark.
Although Mr. Castro was the living embodiment of a strain of philosophy, mentality and morality to which we could not be more opposed, it is beyond argument that in terms of sheer power and personality, he was a Colossus.
Whether he inspired love, hate or ambivalence, the arc of his life cannot be ignored.
Mr. Castro used to punctuate his speeches with the following cry of defiance: “¡Socialismo o muerte!” (Socialism or death!)
Both, finally, have come to Fidel Castro.